Turnout fears mount for Dems

 

The Democratic Party's worst fears about the midterm election look to be coming true. 

Polling in recent weeks suggests turnout on Election Day could be very low, even by the standards of recent midterms. That’s bad news for Democrats because core groups in the liberal base are more likely to stay home than are people in the demographic segments that lean Republican.

A Gallup poll last week found that voters are less engaged in this year's midterms than they were in 2010 and 2006. Only 33 percent of respondents said they were giving at least “some” thought to the upcoming midterms, compared to 46 percent in 2010 and 42 percent in 2006. Even more troubling for Democrats, Republicans held a 12-point advantage  when those paying “some” attention were broken down by party.

Historically, the core Democratic constituencies of young people, minorities and single women are more likely to skip voting in midterm elections. The current projections suggest that months of effort by the Democratic Party to engage those groups on issues such as the minimum wage and women's pay may have been in vain.



ADVERTISEMENT

If the numbers hold, it could mean a rout for Democrats similar to the 2010 "shellacking" — President Obama’s description — that swept away their House majority.

"We cannot have 2010 turnout. If we have 2010 turnout among our key constituencies, we're going to have 2010 all over again. It's math," said Democratic strategist Cornell Belcher, who served as a pollster for President Obama's election campaigns.

Overall voter participation in midterm elections has hovered around 40 percent in recent years, compared to a 56 percent average for presidential years. But turnout levels are more resilient among older, richer and white voters — all of which is good news for Republicans.

According to the nonpartisan Voter Participation Center, nearly 21 million fewer African Americans, Hispanics, unmarried women and young people voted in 2010 compared to 2008. That's exactly the situation Democrats want to avoid this time around.

Some Democrats think the party hasn't done enough to pep up the groups that form its main pillars of support. Veteran Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told The Hill last week that Hispanic voters would largely be unmotivated to vote in this year's elections due to President Obama's decision to delay an executive action on immigration.

“I think if we'd done something, it would have energized the Latino vote and drawn a clear distinction with the Republicans," Lake said.

Polling has further shown that young people are generally disengaged with this year's elections. A Pew Research poll this month found that only five percent of adults ages 18-29 were following the 2014 midterms very closely.

That could spell disaster for Democrats. National exit polls from the last midterm elections in 2010 indicated that voters aged 18-29 favored Democratic candidates over Republicans by 55 percent to 42 percent. Those figures were roughly reversed among voters aged 65 and older, who voted Republican 59 percent to 38 percent.

Tellingly, those voters who were 65 and older accounted for 21 percent of the votes cast in 2010, while only about 12 percent of the total voters came from the 18-29 cohort.

Turnout should be higher in states with high-profile competitive races. Michael McDonald, an associate professor at the University of Florida who specializes in elections, said that turnout may be low nationally simply because most of the county's largest states — such as California and Texas — don't have major competitive races.

"Half the population of the country doesn't have a Senate race this year," McDonald said.

McDonald noted that voter participation in Iowa, for instance, may even exceed 2010.

"Turnout may be down nationally, but within the key battleground states, certainly turnout looks to be robust so far," McDonald said. "Turnout in midterms is conditioned heavily on the competitive nature of the races."

Democrats are continuing to try hard to get their base to turn out. Leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus last month announced a multi-state campaign drive to motivate African American voters to go to the polls. The effort started with voter outreach drives at 3,000 African American churches across the country on September 21.